Read Takedown (An Alexandra Poe Thriller) Online

Authors: Robert Gregory Browne,Brett Battles

Takedown (An Alexandra Poe Thriller) (7 page)

BOOK: Takedown (An Alexandra Poe Thriller)
11.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Maybe within the last few months.

Or even days.

Did the person who had broken into the house leave it here for Alex to find? Was the interloper someone she knew?

Could the owner of that sleeping bag be…


That was ridiculous. He wouldn’t risk coming here. He wouldn’t step foot on US soil, not while he was still running from the DHS, the CIA, and every other acronym in the intelligence community, both public and private.

So who had put this here?

And more importantly—why?

Alex took her computer tablet from her backpack in the rental car and carried it upstairs to the living room, her hands trembling as she brought the tablet to life. She set the wedding-dress photo face down on the coffee table, pulled up the Web browser, and carefully keyed in the truncated URL written on the back of the photo.

She paused, sucked in a breath, then touched the GO icon and waited as the browser took her to a site called
, one of the many file-sharing repositories on the web. The page held a download link for a video file, several megabytes in size, called


A Persian name, but Alex didn’t recognize it. Her mother’s name was Mitra.

Still, it had to mean something.

She tapped the download link and a pop-up screen told her to enter a password.

Now what?

She thought for a moment, but she was no computer hacker and had no clue what the password might be. In a fit of inspiration, she tried typing in
and a message in red came up on the screen:

ERROR: Incorrect password. 2 attempts remaining.


She was convinced now that whoever had left this link had wanted her to find it and download the file, so the clue to the password had to be in that treasure box. She thought about the items she’d found—the photographs, the key, her mother’s turquoise ring—but nothing sparked any ideas.

Was there something in the photo itself?

She picked it up and studied it again. Her mother standing on the steps of some kind of Persian palace. A smile on her face, but a bit forced, as if she wished the camera wasn’t pointed at her. Her hands clasped a bouquet, and she was wearing the ring.

Could that be it?

Alex started to type
Mitra’s Ring
into the password field, but reconsidered halfway through and erased it. The choice seemed unlikely and she didn’t want to waste an attempt.

So, what else could it be?

The photographs, the key, the ring…

The key, the photographs, the ring…

The ring, the photographs—

And then it hit her.

The key. It had to be the key. It was meant to open a lock, but maybe not a

Tucking the tablet under her arm, Alex flew through the doorway and down the steps, back to the room where she’d spent most of the afternoon. She moved to the workbench, picked up the key, and squinted at the initials and numbers etched into its head—
S&G 4576
. She rested the tablet on the workbench and called up the password screen again.

She took a deep breath and typed in
S&G 4576

ERROR: Incorrect password. 1 attempt remaining.

Shit, shit, shit.

, she told herself,
think this through, then take another deep breath and try again

Feeling a knot form in her stomach, she started typing again, this time omitting the space between the letters and numbers:

A little hourglass appeared—
—then turned over several times until finally, thankfully, another pop-up filled the screen, asking her to approve the download.

Alex nearly shouted in triumph as she clicked the
button. As soon as the
file finished downloading, she didn’t waste time wondering what to expect. She simply tapped the link and watched the video player blossom.

After switching it to full-screen mode, she waited as the tablet went black for a moment, then came to life with what looked like poorly transferred footage from an old VHS camcorder. There were streaks in the video and the sound was wobbly.

But that didn’t matter. What she saw captivated her.

Stunned her.

It was her mother, in the very same wedding dress and veil, sitting on a chair in a large, palatial room, in front of a Persian rug covered with ornate trays full of baked goods and fruits and spices and coins and a mirror flanked by two burning candelabra.

A traditional Persian wedding.

Her mother was surrounded by Iranian family and friends who watched in delight as the ceremony was performed, the groom seated on the chair next to her.

And as Alex stood there watching it all unfold, her heart started thumping again, leaving her confused, troubled, and even a little angry.

Because the man in that chair was not her father.


to be so upset by the video.

Alex had spent two years on active duty, and had seen things that would make most people want to curl up in a corner. And after years of that kind of conditioning, it should have taken more than a thirty-year-old wedding ceremony to get her going.

But as she drove toward town, she felt angry tears threatening to cloud her eyes, and had to will them away with everything she had.

It wasn’t her mother’s previous marriage that bothered her so much. It was that she had been
to. All of her life. Told a story about a young college student who had left Iran right before the Islamic Revolution. But there had never been any mention of a dress and a veil and the handsome Iranian groom in that video.

Not one word.

Why would her mother hide such an important part of her past? Was she ashamed of it? Had she come here under a cloud of scandal?

And what about Alex’s father? Had he known and been part of the deception? Or had he been as clueless as Alex?

Her mind a swirl of questions, she turned the wheel of her rental car, and pulled into the parking lot of the Largo Inn. She had no idea why she had come here. She was running on autopilot right now and had only wanted to get away from that house and all of its memories.

As she parked the car, it occurred to her she wouldn’t have come to Key Largo if it hadn’t been for those e-mails from Thomas Gérard, looking to buy the Shimmy Shack for an unnamed client.

be the one behind this? Or maybe the client?

She must have unconsciously been thinking it, because here she was at the very place Gérard had said he would be, her anger quickly building into all-out rage.

Easy, Alex
You need to relax.

If Gérard was in that bar, going in there with her finger on the trigger would not get her any answers.

Taking several slow, deep breaths, she shut off the engine and tried to center herself. Her friend Cooper had long been a proponent of meditation, a discipline he had adopted after their tour in Iraq. And in the months since they’d begun working together again, he had urged her to join him, telling her it was the perfect way to purge both mental and physical toxins.

Alex had bristled at the thought, assuming it was Cooper’s passive-aggressive way of telling her she was too tightly wound.

But maybe that was true.

Especially now.

Though she had no idea why Gérard would be part of some conspiracy to reveal the truth about her mother, she was far more likely to get information from him by taking the innocent approach than by rushing in and slamming his head against the wall.

With this thought in mind, she twisted the rearview mirror to make sure her eyes were clear, then popped open her door and climbed out.

Gérard had staked out a table near the windows overlooking a small man-made beach and the bay. The sky was full of the remnants of what had undoubtedly been a dazzling sunset that Alex had been far too preoccupied to pay any attention to.

Gérard was draped in his chair, a large tropical drink in hand, his feet up on the arm of the chair across from him. He seemed lost in thought as he stared out at the water, reminding Alex of those Shimmy Shack nights on the patio with her father.

Not that Gérard was anything like Dad. Far from it.

Seeing him looking so relaxed made her doubt he had anything to do with planting that treasure box. But it didn’t mean he wasn’t an unwitting accomplice.

He must have seen her reflection in the windows because he abruptly turned his head and gave her a wave.

“Ms. Poe,” he said, keeping it formal.

Taking his feet off the chair, he sat up, gesturing for her to join him. He looked a little drunk. Maybe more than a little.

“Alex,” she said as she approached. “Call me Alex.”

“All right, Alex it is. Have a seat, order a drink.”

She sat down and a waiter appeared out of nowhere, as if Gérard had him on private retainer. “What can I get for you, ma’am? Key Lime Colada? Mermaid Tail?”

“Jameson. Neat,” she said. “And tell the bartender to make sure he wipes the dust off the bottle before he pours.”

The waiter gave her a stiff half smile and went away.

“I think you upset him,” Gérard said, chuckling. He raised his drink. “They seem to enjoy pushing these fruity monstrosities—which, by the way, cost a small fortune.”

“I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that the Keys don’t exactly embrace frugality. If you’re looking for a cheap vacation, you’d better apply elsewhere.”

He smiled that smile of his. “Is this an attempt to persuade my client to raise his offer?”

“It probably should be, but I’m not greedy. And the sooner we get this done, the better. Have you spoken to him yet?”

“I sent the photos, but he hasn’t responded.” He took a sip of his drink and leaned forward, his eyes glassy. “But if you don’t mind, I’d rather save our business for the light of day. I’m not a fan of discussing such things once the sun goes down.”

Or when you’re half in the bag
, Alex thought.

She looked out the windows and saw that the sun had indeed disappeared, the sky now a mix of deep purples and blues, with a sliver of moonlight reflected by the water. The beach below looked empty and inviting, even if the sand
been shipped in from farther north.

The waiter came back and set Alex’s drink on the table in front of her.

As she took a sip, Gérard said, “Not that I’m complaining, but why the change of heart?”

“Change of heart?”

“About having a drink with me.”

“I don’t suppose you’d believe I just got in the car and started driving and this was where I wound up?”

He smiled again and lifted his glass in a toast. “So you’re a free spirit. A woman without purpose.”

“Only on my bad days,” she said.

He laughed but then studied her. “Unless my instincts are fuzzy, there’s something troubling you. Did the intruder come back?”

She shook her head. “The only thing troubling me is that I don’t know who your client is. That’s the real reason I’m here.”

“But I’ve already told you. He prefers to remain anonymous.”

“And I prefer to know who I’m doing business with.”

He paused. “So then this really is an attempt to raise the price.”

“No,” she said, “it’s an attempt to find out who wants my house and why he had you contact me. Why now instead of a year ago? Six months?”

Gérard shrugged. “As far as I know, he wasn’t in the market then. And I’m not sure why this is so upsetting to you.”

He was right. She
upset and it showed. She was handling this like a ham-handed amateur, but interrogation had never been her specialty. She was the grab-and-go girl who left such things to the experts.

BOOK: Takedown (An Alexandra Poe Thriller)
11.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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